HC Deb 02 March 1965 vol 707 cc1113-6
6. Commander Courtney

asked the Minister of Technology what progress has been made by the Atomic Energy Authority in the development of a nuclear reactor for marine purposes; if spectral shift is still incorporated in the design; what study he has made of the United States consolidated nuclear steam generator type now being fitted in the German s.s. "Otto Hahn" for the purposes of comparison with the British proposal; and if he will make a statement.

38. Mr. Dalyell

asked the Minister of Technology what study he has made of the consolidated nuclear steam generator type, constructed in the United States of America and being fitted to s.s. "Otto Hahn", for the purposes of comparison with the British proposal; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Cousins

On the first part of this Question, I refer the hon. and gallant Member to the reply I gave to the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) on 23rd February. If the Government decide to proceed with a prototype ship, a choice will be made between the Vulcain design which incorporates the spectral shift method of control and the alternative burnable poison pressurised water reactor. I understand that the organisation building the "Otto Hahn" is designing the reactor for this ship in collaboration with a consortium of German firms which includes the licensee of the United States design to which the hon. Members refer.

Commander Courtney

Will the Minister confirm that the Vulcain spectral shift principle is still under consideration for marine purposes? Is it not a fact that this part of the late Captain Atkins' criticisms of this reactor is valid? As we shall never get a prototype ship to sea unless we do something, will not the Minister sink his pride and that of the Atomic Energy Authority and buy American?

Mr. Cousins

If you will put down a Question about purchasing American, I will try to answer that one, too. The Question which you have put—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] You will have to accept that I think of you in that way. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] No offence is intended, Mr. Speaker. My experience in the past has been in directing thoughts to people who did not mind. The question of the Vulcain reactor is, of course, still under review, as is the burnable poison design. The question of which is to be used, if one is to be used, is not simply a matter of whether the Vulcain or the American is the right one.

Dame Irene Ward

On a point of order. I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that he was answering Question No. 28 with No. 6. Did he really mean No. 26, Mr. Speaker?

Mr. Speaker

No. No. 38 was the additional number mentioned by the Minister.

Mr. Dalyell

Is it known when the choice between the two systems is likely to be made?

Mr. Cousins

No. There are many considerations, including the question of priorities of our economic resources, too, that have to be considered.

Mr. Hogg

Whilst I sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman as one who has recently made bad mistakes in addressing the House in the second person plural, and wishing him the very best of luck in seeking to accustom himself, as I have had to do, may I ask him to realise that this is a matter which has very general interest in all quarters of the House? Will he keep the House informed about the progress of the investigation into this matter as soon as anything definite is known?

Mr. Cousins

I will certainly be glad to do that.

Mr. Wingfield Digby

Is it still the intention of the Government, as I was told on 22nd December—[HON. MEMBERS: "Take your hand out of your pocket."] Is it still the intention of the Government, as I was told on 22nd December, to put the Vulcain—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Take your hand out of your pocket."] Is it still the intention of the Government, as I was told on 22nd December, to put the Vulcain in the Belgian experimental reactor BR3, or do I gather from the earlier reply that that idea has been discontinued?

Mr. Cousins

The hon. Member made me comforted to know that the House could shout at him for not knowing how to conduct himself, too. Collaboration on the Vulcain reactor will continue between the Atomic Energy Authority and the Syndicat Vulcain under an agreement which lasts until 1967.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

In view of the considerable further developments arising from the Padmore Report, to which there was a reference in one of the right hon. Gentleman's Answers this afternoon, will he consider laying a new White Paper to show what further thought the Government have given to the matter in the light of subsequent experience?

Mr. Cousins

This, I should have thought, was a little premature in the light of the Answers I have given earlier.

Commander Courtney

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I give notice that I will seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

8. Mr. Wall

asked the Minister of Technology what progress is being made on the Vulcain reactor; and to what degree his Department is co-operating in the design and construction of such a reactor.

Mr. Cousins

Good progress has been made on the joint programme with the Belgians. The experimental operation of a Vulcain-type core in the Belgian BR3 reactor will begin later this year. The A.E.A. and its Belgian associates are responsible for day-to-day management of work under the agreement, which is at present limited to research and development and does not cover the construction of a reactor.

Mr. Wall

Can the right hon. Gentleman say to what degree the Vulcain has been a failure, and how long it will take to get either the Vulcain or some other type of reactor to sea? Does he think that the date mentioned by the Padmore Report, 1968, can still be reached?

Mr. Cousins

The question whether one gets a ship to sea depends on a lot of other considerations. As to whether the Vulcain is used, perhaps I might point out that there is more than one type of reactor, but a decision has not been taken on an economic basis as to whether this is the type of project that we should initiate first.